FLORENCE, Italy – New Jersey-born forward Giuseppe Rossi returned to the starting lineup, helping Italy rout the Faeroe Islands 5-0 in new coach Cesare Prandelli's home debut Tuesday night.
Rossi showed off some fancy dribbling skills and had several scoring chances denied by the defense, then was replaced by Fabio Quagliarella in the 58th.
"I had a few chances, but the defense was good and the goalie made a few good saves," Rossi said. "I'm happy for the personal performance, but the most important thing was the three points, and that's what we got today," Rossi said.
Rossi was among the last players cut from Italy's World Cup roster by previous coach Marcello Lippi. Prandelli appears to have more faith in the 23-year-old — having called Rossi up to train with Parma years ago.
"When I was young, he made me train with them for a couple sessions," Rossi said. "He's been calling me up and I'm happy and I've been playing so that's important."
Rossi, who was born in Teaneck and raised in Clifton, said he has no regrets about choosing to play for Italy over the United States, despite not making the World Cup squad. It's always been his desire to play for Italy on soccer's biggest stage.
"Obviously it's a dream, but unfortunately it will be for the next one," he said.
To the crowd's delight, Fiorentina's Gilardino opened the scoring in the 11th minute, meeting a corner from Pirlo with a header by the far post.
De Rossi made it 2-0 in the 22nd with a shot from the center of the penalty area, and a rejuvenated Cassano then found the target with a long shot in the 27th.
Quagliarella added another score from close range in the 81st, and Pirlo curved in a free kick in the 90th.
Prandelli received a warm welcome in his old stadium, having previously coached Fiorentina. He saluted the crowd inside Artemio Franchi stadium before kickoff and picked up a white rose thrown from the stands.
"I was sure it was going to be a festive atmosphere tonight," Prandelli said. "The guys did a good job because there's always the risk of making an ugly showing. It wasn't easy to maintain the same pace for 90 minutes. I want to thank these fans for the last five years."
Having struggled to beat Estonia 2-1 on Friday, Italy has a full six points atop Group C, while the Faeroes remained without any points following its third successive loss.
Since Italy was eliminated in the first round of the World Cup, Prandelli has remodeled the squad with a more attacking style focused on the talents of Cassano — who was excluded by Lippi.
Cassano scored one goal and set up the other against Estonia with a heel flick.
The two victories followed a seven-game winless streak.
Still, the Azzurri must put this win in context. It came against a team that hasn't won a European Championship qualifier since beating San Marino 15 years ago.
"It's a beautiful evening. You can feel the festive atmosphere and the desire to improve. That's a great sign," Italian federation president Giancarlo Abete said at halftime. "South Africa is far away and near at the same time. There's still a long road ahead, and we have two tough games awaiting us in October."
Italy next visits Northern Ireland on Oct. 8, then hosts Serbia four days later.